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Seagate Employee Explains Firmware Debacle

Last week, Tom's Hardware reported that an escalating number of Barracuda 7200.11, ES.2 SATA and DiamondMax 22 drives were failing due to a fatal flaw in the firmware which caused the drive to suddenly lock itself up and prevent the BIOS from even detecting it in the system. There is no way of fixing this unfortunately, and the drive needs to be returned for replacement.

An employee from Seagate explained the situation from the perspective of someone who doesn't work in Public Relations. The original stuttering problem with the 1.5 TB drives was originally thought to be caused by poor chipset SATA implementation. When it became apparent that the issue was firmware related, several revisions were released to customers who contacted customer support so that the correct version could be given. This is standard procedure for Seagate, who usually do not allow general public access to firmware downloads.

The problem with the 7200.11 series bricking, which has been in the news for the last month, was what really got the ball rolling. The Seagate employee says that is an old problem that was difficult to diagnose. A log or journal is written to in the firmware when certain events occur. If this reaches 320 entries and the drive is powered down, it will produce errors during initialization and not report information to the BIOS. Engineers quickly began work on a new firmware update to prevent this from happening.

Normally, a customer would go through the usual process of contacting customer support for the new preventative update and “this firmware had to go through five different checks to make sure it applies to the specific conditions to qualify sending to a customer, before now. 5 chances for us to go 'your drive needs the other (or none) firmware update'.” However, management, in order to quell the possibility of liability for drive failures, pushed a general public release of the firmware. “Suddenly, it's down to one check, and even that was more designed for a contingency just in case the wrong firmware was sent out.”

Thus some drives, particularly the 500 GB models, failed after applying the SD1A update that was released early this week, and the firmware was removed from the site. Unlike the original issue with the journal, this "bricking" does not prevent the drive from reporting to the BIOS, so it can be reflashed at any time.

Seagate has just released a new firmware update to resolve the problem.